Trending Topics

Former Ky. prison supervisor sentenced to 7 years for failing to stop inmate assault

Eric Nantell was a sergeant at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in July 2018 when three COs assaulted an inmate in a shower, according to court documents

Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex

Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex

John Cheves/TNS

By Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A former Kentucky prison supervisor who did not stop guards from beating a prisoner and then lied to investigators has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

Eric Nantell, 48, was a sergeant at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in Morgan County in July 2018 when three guards punched and kicked a prisoner in a shower, according to court documents.

The man had swallowed drugs before the incident to keep guards from confiscating them.

He was handcuffed and in leg shackles during the attack and was not fighting with officers, according to the court record.

Nantell did not take part in the assault but was standing nearby. He watched the assault, did nothing to stop it and then walked away while the other officers continued to hit the victim, federal authorities charged.

A jury convicted Nantell of one count of depriving the inmate of the right to be free from excessive force; two charges of misleading investigators from the prison system and Kentucky State Police; and one count of lying to an FBI agent.

Nantell’s attorney, Eldred E. “Bud” Adams Jr ., argued for a lower sentence for Nantell, writing in a sentencing memorandum that Nantell had a good record as an officer and had been punished by being convicted and losing his livelihood.

Adams said it was unrealistic that Nantell could have broken up the assault and that trying to do so could have placed him in danger.

“Three to one odds are not very good,” Adams wrote, referring to the fact that there were three guards hitting the man.

But the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary D. Dembo, said in a sentencing memo that Nantell was the highest-ranking officer at the scene and that other officers looked to him for guidance.

One officer who took part in the assault testified that if Nantell “had said anything at all indicating he felt the assault was unacceptable, the beating would have stopped immediately,” Dembo wrote.

“While the evidence shows that the defendant did not personally harm the victim, he is responsible for every blow that occurred after he recognized that a vicious prison beating was happening right in front of him and chose not to stop it,” the prosecutor said.

Corrections officers like Nantell who allow abuse of incarcerated people create distrust in the justice system that makes the job more difficult and dangerous for officers who follow the rules, Dembo said.

The prosecutor also said Nantell had several opportunities to tell investigators the truth, but urged other prison staffers to “stick with the story” they’d come up with to cover up the assault, and called one who told the truth a rat.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning sentenced Nantell Monday in federal court in Ashland.

Adams said Nantell is considering whether to appeal his conviction.

Nantell was one of seven one-time employees at the prison charged in the case. The six others pleaded guilty without going to trial.

The three officers who took part in the assault were Randall Dennis, James Benish and Jeffery Havens.

Bunning sentenced Dennis to five years in prison; Benish to 27 months; and Havens to 15 months.

Randy Nickell, Nathan Cantrell and Derek Mays were in the hallway outside the shower and were charged in covering up the crime.

Bunning sentenced each of them to one month behind bars, along with five months on home incarceration for Nickell and Cantrell.

©2024 Lexington Herald-Leader.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.